The 1 Thing More Effective Than New Year Resolutions

It’s January 6th 2018, less than a week since New Year’s Day. Have you managed to stick to your resolution/s? Have you hit the gym every day? Have you managed to go without a single cigarette all week? Or has there been a hiccup along the way?

Be honest with yourself. No one is judging.

If there was a hiccup you’re not alone. In fact, it’s quite likely that some of us who had planned to start the year with a resolution didn’t even get that far. I’ve got a handful of fingers counting off people I know who didn’t even make it a day.

In fact, in a YouGov poll (carried out on behalf of LowLow) over 60% of the UK planned on making a new year resolution for the year 2015. Almost one third (32%) of those participants admitted that their resolutions are usually broken by the end of January, compared to just 10% of them who said their resolutions remain resolute all year.

So, if you did hit a bump in the road, no one is judging. Really. Stop being so hard on yourself. You did better than others just by turning up.

And for those of us who are still going strong: you’re awesome, keep it up. Only 359 days left.

But there’s something I’d like you to think about.

Why did you wait until January 1st to get started? If a new year resolution is self-improvement, why did you put off being a better version of who you already are?


“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”

Benjamin Franklin

January 1st is an arbitrary date.

It’s not a law to make a resolution and start it on the first day of the year. What’s more, by lining up at the starting line of the new year, you’ve inadvertently put yourself at a disadvantage:

You already have an excuse ready for failure

In the pressure to keep up with everyone else, you’ve probably clutched at a stock answer resolution rather than making a deeply personal choice. You probably set up a resolution because hey, that’s what we all do on January 1st… Was your heart even in it?

Everyone’s watching and everyone has their expectations

More than close friends and family that you consider ‘everyone’, asking each other what new year resolutions they’ve made is a go to conversation point in the first few weeks of the year. That barista serving you a coffee. The charity worker wanting you to sign up to make monthly donations. The postman. The milkman. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker?

That’s everyone.

You’re more likely to take set backs more sensitively

“I’ve ruined the year.”

“What’s the point?”

“I was never going to succeed anyway…”

We’ve become attuned to making grand statements of intent at the start of the year because we attribute the new year to a blank canvas. With this mentality, we have to wait the entire year before we get another one. So, if we are anything but perfect in our interaction with our resolutions it’s like we’ve stained the year with failure. 

Here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter! Every day is a blank canvas. Every moment is. We can start a fresh any time we choose and we can try again each and every time we want and need.

You’ve removed the opportunity to use each day for self betterment, no matter what number it says on the calendar

By allocating a single day every year to kick off a resolution; to make a change or do something that you’ve waited months to be allowed to official begin, 363 opportunities to do just that have been rejected by definition. 

See you next year, Mr. Opportunity to Be Whoever I Choose To Be.

A single, larger goal is more daunting than choosing to make small changes more consistently

Typical resolutions are easy to think of:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Eat more healthy
  • Quit smoking
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Save £XX
  • Learn a language
  • Spend more time with the folks
  • Start a business 

By looking at the intended goal: to lose 5kg, to hit the gym 6 days a week, to nail Lithuanian, we can lose sight of the journey and the little steps that it takes to get there. If we see the individual components of the goal we can feel more confident and empowered. 

So, ask yourself, why do tomorrow that which you can do today?

The 1 Thing More Effective Than New Year’s Resolutions

“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment”

Tony Robbins

Waiting to start a ‘resolution’ on January 1st is time wasting. It’s deliberation and it doesn’t serve you well.

Here’s an idea: resolve to start today.

If you want to lose weight, why put it off until January 1st? It won’t help and it won’t be any easier if you do. In fact, chances are you will have made the decision to commit to a new diet and exercise regime in December, right before that final festive binge. Waiting until January 1st isn’t going to be easier, it’s going to be harder. Think about it.

If you want to learn a new language this year and have asked Santa to bring you a nice teach yourself guide to German crack it open on Christmas morning and test out wishing everyone Frohe Weihnachten. In the 7 days until January 1st you could have learned 70 new words.

What if you’ve vowed to finally give up smoking? If each cigarette you smoke is going to steal 11 minutes of your life…quit yesterday.

We’re all champions of our own fate and there’s no value in waiting to make it. Once we shake off the mentality that a new year is a new start we’ll free ourselves to the potential of every new day.

So, if you want to achieve something, don’t wait for Go. 

Simply go for it. 

Making resolutions stick

Worthwhile resolutions are not difficult because of a lack of enthusiasm for it. A worthwhile resolution is one that you desire the outcome of. It’s a goal that you want to achieve and understand what it takes to do so.

A resolution shouldn’t be something that you don’t want to do. Doing what you don’t want to do is difficult; doing what you want to do is something else entirely.

It’s hard work but there’s a thrill in the chase.

Somewhere out there on the horizon, nestled on the precipice of 2019, there’s a podium waiting for you to climb. It’s a podium with only one step.

First place.

Make it or break it, you’ll climb that step a winner with a smile on your face.

Let’s break it down…


The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘resolution’ as:

A firm decision to do or not to do something.

The word ‘decision’, of course, referring to:

A conclusion or resolution reached after consideration

And ‘consideration’ means:

Careful thought, typically over a period of time.

So therefore we can say that a resolution is:

A firm conclusion to do, or not do, something reached after a period of careful thought.

In other words, you’ve taken stock, evaluated your needs and wants against the cost of achieving them, and come to the realisation of what you need to do in order to get them.

So in order to build a resolution that you can find success in there are a handful of simple tactics to use.

They’re the 4P’s of resolution building:

  1. Personal
  2. Positive
  3. Precise
  4. Perceptive

Success Is Yours, Take It [1. Personal]

The resolutions need to be meaningful to you. Even if the goal involves a third party the goal still belongs to you and you’ll still be the one responsible for it.

Both Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within and David J. Schwartz’s The Magic of Thinking Big are fantastic starting points for personal goal-setting.

Consider The Cup Half Full [2. Positive]

No, quitting smoking will not be effortless.

No, losing weight won’t just be a walk in the park.

No, learning Mandarin will not be easy. 

But yes, you’ll feel great once you remove cigarettes from your life or fit into those sexy jeans again or flirt with the pretty Chinese girl in the airport lounge. 

Nothing worth having in life ever came easy but nothing easy ever really had much value. 

Specificity [3. Precise]

Remember at school being asked to make SMART goals? The principle applies here.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Let’s take a common resolution: to lose weight, and apply the SMART principle.

First, make the goal..

Specific

How much weight do I want to lose? Why do I want to lose it? Can I visualise the end result? What is the definition of my goal?

By being specific you will have a goal with clearly defined boundaries and therefore a clearly definable measure of success. This is the Big Picture.

Measurable

What are my micro and macro goals? How much do I want to lose in the first month? How will I track my progress?

The breaking down of a goal is fundamental in understanding how best to accomplish it. Want to lose 5kg in the next 5 months in time for a summer on the beach? 5kg (the goal) becomes 1kg per month (the macro goal) which becomes 250g per week (the micro goal). Now you have regular, weekly evaluation points to allow you to understand the rate of your success and make any adjustments more frequently, as needed. This is your Road Map of Check Points.

Achievable

What do I need in order to lose the weight? Am I able to do these things? If not, is there a workaround or alternative? Do I have the resources to allow me to do what I need to?

This is where you devise a plan of action. You’ve got a Big Picture, you’ve got a Road Map of Check Points, now it’s time to figure out your approach. Have a plan A and a plan B, with a plan C and a plan D tucked away for safe keeping in case of emergencies. After all, failing to prepare is preparing to fail, right? Consider this the Itinerary of Accomplishment.

Realistic

Is losing this amount of weight possible?

Simply put, does everything seem like a sure thing? It might take really hard work to get there, but between visualising success and charting a course for it, will the time and energy invested in it pay-off? Or, put another way, what else good can come from it if you don’t make it? Have a Voice of Reason. If you’re working on losing those 5kg but only manage to reach 3.5kg that’s still a net loss and a net gain: you’ve lost weight and, in all likelihood, become a lot fitter, healthier and more in tune with eating right since starting. Win win. 

Time-bound

Do I have enough time to realistically achieve my measurable goals? Again, what are my micro and macro goals? What time frame do I have to work with?

Intrinsic to your evaluation of how realistic the goal is, understanding the time constraint is really important. After working on the S-M-A and R a closer look at the time you have to work with may trigger amendments back along the chain. Perhaps you have so much time that you are able to step things up a notch and aim to lose 5kg as well as add 1kg of solid, rippling muscle. Or, perhaps upon reflection 5 months is pushing it. Maybe 5kg should be 4kg. But be objective rather than subjective: if deep down you know it will simply take a little more hard work…work a little more hard. This is your Application Period

So, by utilising the SMART principle you’ll have used your Voice of Reason to settle on a Big Picture, plot out a Road Map of Check Points and draw up your Itinerary of Accomplishment all within your Application Period.  

Pay attention to the process

“The journey is the thing…”

Homer

Aiming to achieve a particular goal, like losing a certain amount of weight or learning a language, is motivating and exciting because of the anticipation of success. 

But there’s more. 

Going from zero to hero is a journey; it’s a joy ride through lessons, failures, successes and all the grey areas in between. 

So, keep an eye on the prize but enjoy every moment. It’s the time between starting and finishing that ultimately offers the greatest reward. You’ll come face to face with the unexpected, be asked to dig deeper than you realised you could and reach higher than your dared to believe you ever would. 

And, when all’s said and done, zoom out from your Big Picture and you’ll see that it’s just another marker on the Road Map of Check Points. 


The Takeaway

Track and assess: consistently

Making a resolution for a prolonged period of time (like a year) naturally makes it a longitudinal goal. Things change all the time and, certainly towards the start, your rate of success will be an unknown quantity. A predication at best. The micro and macro goals that you’ve lined up may not necessarily go as planned as you’re likely to be sailing in uncharted waters so track and record your progress daily, review every goal and use this new information to move forwards to the next one.

Expect the unexpected

Every road has bumps. Life happens so the more ready we are for disruptions to the plan the better equipped we will be to deal with them so that our goals and resolutions can still be accomplished. 

Build strategies into your goal-setting 

You’ve considered your goal in relation to the SMART principle and have thought about potential pitfalls and hazards [A]. Use this evaluation to devise backup plans, workarounds and opportunities to mitigate as much disruption to your success as possible.

Don’t be greedy: Prioritise 

What is the big goal? The more resolutions you have, the more your focus will be split. Focusing on one thing at a time will make you more likely to accomplish it. If you like a lot of entries to tick off, break your big goal down into as many micro and macro goals as you like. You’ll feel super accomplished as you tick-tick-tick everything but will remain 100% centred on the big goal.

Let it go.

If you happen to have a bit of a tricky day and end up falling off of the Resolution Wagon don’t let it ruin the resolution. Pick yourself up and get right back on. Failing one time shouldn’t stop you from trying again. And again and again if necessary. Remember, it’s your resolution. No one’s watching. No one’s judging. 


 

How Do I Stop Feeling Like Time Is Slipping Through My Fingers?

A few months before the start of #Project20nine I found myself afflicted by a constant worry. It had crept up on me and settled in like a shadow in the night. I was worrying that I’ve been wasting my time and that no matter how hard I tried to stop the sands of time slipping through my fingers I just couldn’t.

Face it, T, no one can.

But the worst bit? The bit that really compounded the problem? Reflecting on the worry meant that I was so focussed on watching those grains fall that I’d lost sight of the grains that were in my hands.

We’ve all got time but it’s in front of us, not behind.

‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’

John Lennon

The fear of wasted time is not uncommon and it’s a slippery path once we’re on it. That path spirals downwards if we don’t make a foothold and step up off of it.

So, I asked myself: how do I stop feeling like this way? How can I be confident that I am not wasting my time? Why is enough never enough? How do I achieve more?

These questions began to infect me the more I understood the root of my anxieties. I dug deeper and found the answers within a new line of thought.

There were 3 questions that I realised helped me to focus and become more proactive in claiming back my sense of making time work for me.

3 Questions That Help

  1. Where does my concept of wasted time come from?
  2. Do I compare myself to others too much?
    1. Is there value to this?
    2. Who, in particular, have I been comparing myself to? Why?
  3. Do I consistently benefit from the results of the way I spend my time?
    1. If results are not being seen, what is being seen?
    2. How am I gauging ‘results’?
    3. What is preventing me from seeing the results that I want to?

The answers will be enlightening. Questions 2 and 3 are closed questions but many open questions spring from them (some of which I’ve identified) and once we begin engaging with this thought pattern, a proactive response will be inevitable.

My Tips to Help Use Time Most Effectively

Assess where your time is going

Are you a procrastinator? A perfectionist? Super lazy or just not quite sure where to start so you twiddle your thumbs as you go round in circles? Do you simply try to do too much and end up chasing your tail? Nail this down and you’ll have an acute awareness of your own time-spending weaknesses.

One of the most immediate, and most likely places, that your time is going is your phone. Download a screen-time tracker like Momentum or utilise a built in function to highlight, in horrifyingly specific detail, just how much time you spend texting, tweeting, grammin’ and Facebooking.

Prioritise and task set (be uber specific)

When you find yourself saying ‘I don’t have time for XX‘, really try to address whether it’s actually the simple case of not having your priorities in right and proper order. For example, if your task list has 15+ items on it consider how many of them are necessary. If they all are, how can you group them? Which task will contribute to the accomplishment of others if done first?

Pareto’s 80:20 Principle states that roughly 80% of our results come from 20% of our actions. That’s a lot of results from very little input.

Establish routines

Cap the day with a morning and an evening routine to give yourself a sense of completion and to retain a bit of sanity if you’re always on the go.

These routines are like forming habits, and forming a habit can take around 66 days, according to Jeremy Dean, to naturalise. I speak about my own here.

To establish your new routine(s):

  • Make them the focus: create a cycle of accomplishing a structure and this mentality will seep into your cycle of accomplishment. Period.
  • Incorporate a sense of reward into them: morning routines might include a post-morning workout latte or the evening routine might include a bit of yoga.
  • Track results: did the new routine, after being established, contribute to greater accomplishment/better well-being/ other opportunities?

Schedule Your Time

Don’t seek to be busy, seek to be productive. Identify your primary goals for the next day by spending no more than 30 minutes, the night before, outlining them.

With these in place, block your time, allocate goals and break down actions into the most efficient tasks. This includes contingency planning for distractions and unexpected turns of events.

By extension, establish cold zones: periods of the day where using mobiles, social media and answering emails is prohibited.

Ideally these periods should form the majority of your time. Allocating specific tech-time will significantly contribute to better time management and focus.

By allocating specific times for emails you will refrain from dipping into the inbox every 20 minutes. Checking and replying at after the first major task has been accomplished and then again towards the middle of the afternoon will also help keep your focus sharp.

Don’t fear saying ‘No’

Saying ‘no’ is a skill. It’s not easy to do it but it’s a fundamental ability to nurture. Your time is yours and saying ‘no’ is an affirmation that you value it enough to keep for yourself. That’s not to say giving your time to others should be avoided, but it’s a serious consideration when you are asked to give it away.

Here’s a simple rule

Say ‘yes’ to things you:

  • have to do
  • should do
  • want to do

But of course the tricky thing is discerning between the three…

Remove distractions

This is one to really emphasise: the TV/Facebook/Instagram/mobile phone isn’t going anywhere. Let these time-thieves disappear from your consideration – the harder you hold on to them the harder it is to relinquish them. Rip ’em off like a band-aid and watch what happens.

Understand your physical and physiological needs

Take care of yourself! Move, drink, sleep, eat. Your brain and body will respond to these basics in kind. They will get sharper, feel more energised and ultimately serve you better.

Be patient but don’t accept waiting

Patience is a virtue but inserting ‘waiting time’ into the day is a long way from being practical. If you find yourself having to wait (for a meeting, a dentist appointment etc.) then use that time well!

Do you have smaller tasks that can be accomplished in this time? If not, how can you make that time work for you, rather than let it dissipate into the ether without a valuable result? Perhaps it’s time you can spend recharging with a tea or reading a few pages of a book.

Good organisation eliminates reorganisation

…and reorganisation is the mother of all time wasters. Keep it in order, keep it clean and you’ll save yourself the hassle of doing bigger jobs more frequently. It’s the magic of little and often.

Remember: you only have so many hours in a day

Trying to do too much, all the time, is not only bad for your health, it can affect relationships, finances and, paradoxically, other goals. Accept that a to do list is not a matter of life and death and that time for living, for relaxing and for non-work related activities is allowed.

Here’s another thought: being too busy, too often, is proof that we’re not good enough at saying no.

Be good at saying no.


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry